The Group Chat: Offseason Operations (Part Two)

We're back for Part Two of our Offseason Operations discussion. Today, we took a look at some of the biggest and most important transfers of the summer. How will these collegiate distance running standouts impact their newest programs? We ask (and answer) all of the important questions below...

Read up on Part One here

Who was the biggest winner of the offseason?

Maura: This has to be the Colorado women by far. With the addition of Emily Venters and Rachel McArthur, Colorado could find themselves standing atop the podium in Terre Haute come November. Venters was an All-American on the grass at Boise State and has plenty of experience racing on the national stage. McArthur has the capability to be an All-American in cross country, she just needs to piece everything together when it matters. Colorado lost some great seniors from last year’s team, including Dani Jones and Makena Morley, but they return Sage Hurta and Tabor Scholl and welcome Emily Covert. The depth of their roster could be big for the Buffaloes.

Ben: I think the Washington men were big winners from the offseason. They secured transfer signatures from Jack Rowe and Andrew Jordan who are both projected to be in the Huskies top five. Additionally, they are also bringing in the top recruiting class in the country with Sam Tanner and Sam Affolder leading the elite freshman class.

Sean: I think I would lean toward Amanda Vestri and the Syracuse women. The Syracuse women were one of the odd teams out of the Northeast Regional Championships last year after a dreadful race. Then, losing Shannon and Mary Malone left them in danger of becoming almost irrelevant in the region. Vestri’s transfer (as well as significant improvements from others on this team) keeps their top five competitive and puts them in a position to win the region. I think Vestri is likely invigorated by the switch as well.

Garrett: I'm actually going to go with the Arkansas women. In a year where there are so many elite programs crowding the upper-echelon of the NCAA, it's hard to convincingly say that any team is a lock for the national title. Despite Arkansas boasting four elite All-American caliber talents (Werner, Robinson, Gregory, Viljoen), they needed a reliable #5 runner to fix the backend of their lineup coming into the season. Luckily, they picked up Katie Izzo, a transfer from Cal Poly. After her monster 3rd place finish at the John McNichols Invite, it seems clear that the Razorback women could have six All-Americans this year if everyone is healthy and if Devin Clark can replicate her 7th place finish from this past weekend. If that happens, it may not matter if one of their top runners go down with an injury. They should still have enough firepower with Izzo in their lineup to take home NCAA gold.

Which team was hurt the most from this offseason?

Maura: The Villanova women got hit pretty hard when Rachel McArthur, Taryn O’Neill, and Lauren Ryan all decided to transfer. Even though they weren't All-Americans last fall, McArthur and O'Neill were still part of the Wildcat's top seven at the NCAA Championships. It might be difficult for Villanova to return to NCAA's in 2019 due to the three transfers and numerous graduates. The newcomers will need to get some quality racing under their belts and have confidence when racing on the big stages (i.e. BIG East XC Championships and regionals).

Ben: I have to agree with Maura on this one. Villanova had a tough summer as they saw a lot of talented women leave the program. They weren’t the only team to lose some top talent to the transfer market, but they were one of the few who were unable to replace them with any new transfers.

Sean: I’ll switch things up and go with the Boise State women. Venters left for Colorado, Kyra Lopez left for Virginia Tech, Jordan Jacob left for Syracuse, and Ostrander left for the pros. Fuller also leaves for graduation and this group is left without a huge percentage of their scoring seven. The Broncos had a wonderful recruiting class, but I just can’t see them picking up all the pieces from the names that left the program.

Garrett: I think I'll go with Villanova on this one mainly because most of the Boise State runners who left were expected to leave. Kyra Lopez and Jordan Jacob were both graduate transfers and Ostrander had already earned her undergrad degree and was entering an Olympic year where she could earn a big contract. But Villanova is a different story. They didn't just lose top runners, they lost most of their future. Last fall, McArthur, O'Neill, and Ryan were all underclassmen and still had (at least) two years of eligibility. Having them all leave the program at once is a brutal blow to this team.

Which big-name transfer surprised you the most?

Maura: Kasey Knevelbaard leaving Southern Utah for Florida State surprised me the most. I had heard rumors about him transferring, but never thought he would leave a program where he was having success. But already looking at results, Knevelbaard is doing big things for the Seminoles on the grass and could find himself leading the team to NCAA's and an individual All-American finish.

Sean: I’m not sure Elliot Gindi counts as a “big name”, but his move to Alabama is definitely significant. I did not expect anyone to be transferring out of NAU, and transferring into Alabama has big implications. The Crimson Tide have almost always struggled to find the back half of a competitive XC team, so any addition as good as Gindi is especially meaningful. The fact that Alabama is fighting to slip in for a top two in the South region bolsters the move as well.

Ben: Emily Venters leaving Boise State for Colorado caught me off guard because the Broncos have been building an elite women’s program for the past few years and Venters had been running incredibly well. Without Venters, Boise State will still be good, but they will likely not match the top-tier performances that we've seen from them over the past few cross country seasons. While leaving Boise is surprising, heading to Boulder to run under Coach Wetmore is not.

Garrett: I was stunned to see that Andrew Jordan was leaving Iowa State for Washington. It was understood that he had been dealing with a few injuries during his time in Ames, but I never thought that would cause him to reevaluate his options. He still had a ton of success with the Cyclones and if he had stayed, they would have been in the national title conversation this year (well, maybe the runner-up conversation). More so, his move to Seattle makes the Huskies a podium squad (in theory) when Jordan is 100% healthy.

By the end of the 2020 outdoor track season, which summer transfer will have made the biggest impact for their respective program?

Maura: Aneta Konieczek’s transfer from Western Colorado to Oregon should greatly benefit the Ducks. Konieczek joins a strong tradition of great distance running at Oregon and she has proven herself worthy of adding to Oregon’s history after her stellar career thus far in Division II. Track is where Konieczek may make her greatest impact due to her steeplechase background, but sometimes your best steeple runners are also great on grassy terrain.

Sean: I’m going to go outside the box again and say Taryn O’Neill. The women of NAU have needed a bigger name to draw excitement to their program who will also help solidify their chances of being legitimate contenders during the fall. I think O’Neill’s transfer gives them the greatest opportunity to continue growing and to bring in better recruits. Will she have the biggest scoring impact at NCAA's? Probably not, but I think she could be an undervalued program changer.

Ben: Maura has already mentioned him in another question, but I think Kasey Knevelbaard will have a big impact at Florida State. The Seminoles will rely on him in a big way in cross country, indoor track, and outdoor track. The former Southern Utah runner will be a key member of the team if they make it back to NCAA's this fall. In addition, the Florida State track team is looking to make noise on the national stage this year in track and having a dependable scorer in the mile/1500 could help push them into the title picture.

Garrett: I'm in complete agreement with Sean. I think it's going to be Taryn O'Neill transferring to Northern Arizona. She showed so much promise at Villanova with a handful of standout performances. She finally gives the Lumberjacks some scoring potency up front to complement their depth during cross country. I am also expecting her to throw down some big performances on the track after this fall. O'Neill may have been the final piece of the puzzle that was needed to make the NAU women competitive on the national stage.

Which recent transfer is the most underrated in terms of the potential impact that they could have with their new program?

Maura: Addison DeHaven transferring from Boise State to Iowa State is an underrated transfer. DeHaven was an All-American for the Broncos, but the team never made the podium at NCAA's. DeHaven has a chance to contribute to a podium finish for the Cyclones this fall. He will not be the #1 guy for Iowa State, but he could find himself sliding into the All-American conversation yet again come November...and that might be enough to put them in the top four.

Sean: Let’s go with Alex George. The Sun Devils of Arizona State lose Will Paulson, but grab another great grad transfer. George allows this program to continue their relevancy while they establish themselves as a potential PAC-12 rival in the distance events. He doesn't have cross country eligibility, but George will certainly have the spotlight and attention to make a large impact for the Sun Devils.

Ben: She probably isn’t underrated anymore, but Amanda Vestri of Syracuse looks like a huge win for the Orange. The former Iowa State Cyclone pairs well with Laura Dickinson to give Syracuse a really nice 1-2 punch. For a team that lost key veteran runners to graduation, Vestri looks like a game-changer for the Orange.

Garrett: I don't think people appreciate just how valuable Paige Hofstad is going to be for UNC. The Georgetown transfer has posted some pretty solid times during her tenure with the Hoyas and now has a chance to lead an up-and-coming North Carolina team that has a ton of promise. The scoring potency that she gives the Tar Heels when paired next to Morgan Ilse makes this team very interesting. If she can stay healthy, Hofstad will have a chance to pioneer a new era of women's distance run for UNC.